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J. Zachary Pike was once a basement-dwelling fantasy gamer, but over time he metamorphosed into a basement-dwelling fantasy writer. A New Englander by birth and by temperament, he writes strangely funny fiction on the seacoast of New Hampshire.
I have had the privilege of spending time in Mike Shel’s company. We spent a couple of days gaming, dining, and talking shop with a group of authors in Detroit at ConFusion a couple of years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Mike; he is a writer of classic D&D modules, a font of nerdy knowledge, and a genuinely pleasant person. If there is anything that I would say against him, it’s that he’s not very good at pitching books.
Anybody who writes books with liches in them—and I feel I am qualified to make this statement— knows that insane undead wizards are some of the most fun characters to write. They’re grim, kind of terrifying, and inherently funny all at the same time; a fun cross between a prepper, an 80’s cartoon villain, and a dancing skellington.
Steve Thomas knows this, and his Mid-Lich Crisis puts the lich front and center. Darruk Darkbringer is an anti-hero’s anti-hero. Like any lich, he’s at his best when he’s bad. There’s a certain evil glee in the book’s casual tyranny, like a more articulate Trogdor let loose upon the peasantry, and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion as Darruk rampaged across the countryside.
But Darruk doesn’t want to be perceived as evil, by his subjects nor his ex-wife. For much of his Mid-Lich Crisis, Darruk tries to be perceived as a savior of humanity, whether or not the ungrateful people want him to. It’s here that the book flags a little, as Darruk’s inner struggles are much less fun than his outer cataclysms. Fortunately, Darruk isn’t willing to give up all the killing and the mayhem and the total control that comes with flinging fireballs at peasants, and he keeps lapsing back into evil as the plot progresses.
I really liked Mid-Lich Crisis, despite the fact that is on the wrong side of my one-man crusade for the “correct” spelling of “Liche.” The jokes land far more often than not, the characters are amusing and memorable, and it’s just a lot of wicked fun. I’d give it four and a half stars, and I’m rounding up for use of one of fantasy’s best tropes. If you’re looking for some lighthearted undead mayhem, pick it up today.
The Dark Profit saga is an economically epic trilogy set on Arth, a world that's fantastic and familiar all at once. On Arth, professional heroes kill monsters for valuable loot, but it’s powerful corporations that reap the rewards.